EU Policies on Electrical and Electronic Waste: Questions & Answers

Brussels, 30 June 2006

1) What is the problem with electrical and electronic waste?

Electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) is the term used for waste from a huge

spectrum of products using electricity. They include small and large household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment, lighting equipment, and consumer goods such as radios, TV sets, video cameras and hi-fi systems. This equipment is made up of many different materials and components, some of which are hazardous. Consequently electrical and electronic waste can cause major environmental and health problems when incinerated or landfilled if it is not done properly. The hazardous substances can also pose a risk to workers’ health when WEEE is dismantled for recycling.

Moreover, the global manufacture of such equipment requires large amounts of energy, metals and other natural resources whose extraction and use have significant environmental impacts. Reusing or recycling these products and components, or otherwise recovering materials or energy from them, limits the need for virgin resources and thus also reduces these impacts.

Each piece of equipment consists of many components such as circuit boards/assemblies, cables, plastics containing flame retardants, cathode ray tubes or liquid crystal displays, accumulators and batteries. Environmentally problematic substances in these components include certain heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium) and flame retardants containing bromine, many of which can be toxic and pose risks to human health when released.

Traditionally more than 90% of WEEE has been landfilled, incinerated or recovered without any pre-treatment, which means that the pollutants could be released into the environment and contaminate air, water and soil.

Data on WEEE from 1998 show generation of 14 kg per inhabitant and year – in total, around 6 million tonnes annually in the EU-15, or 4% of the municipal waste stream. The quantity of WEEE was estimated to be growing at 3-5% per year – more rapidly than any other waste stream and three times faster than the average. Today, each European is likely to generate between 17 and 20 kg of WEEE per year.

2) What is the EU doing about electrical and electronic waste?

The EU has adopted two Directives that tackle the problems posed by electrical and electronic waste.

The Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE Directive)[1] aims to prevent the generation of electrical and electronic waste and to promote reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery in order to reduce the quantity of such waste to be eliminated through landfilling or incineration. It therefore requires the collection of WEEE, recovery and reuse/recycling. Where appropriate, priority should be given to reusing the whole appliance.

The Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS Directive)[2] seeks to substitute certain heavy metals and brominated flame retardants in electrical and electronic equipment, where alternatives are available. The objective is to facilitate safe recycling and recovery and prevent any problems during the waste management phase.

To support the goals of these two directives the EU is funding many projects for technology development and innovation in the areas of WEEE recycling and the development of substitutes for hazardous substances. Information campaigns on the need for improving the environmental performance of electrical and electronic equipment have also been organised.

Separate EU legislation bans the export to third countries of hazardous waste, which can include WEEE, where there are no guarantees that it will be treated in an environmentally sound manner.

For more details: http://www.wastexchange.eu

3) What are the key provisions and deadlines under the WEEE
Directive?

From 2005: Member States have to establish and maintain registers of producers and, every two years, provide the Commission with information on the quantities of products put on the market, collected, reused, recycled or otherwise recovered. Every three years, starting in 2007, Member States have to report on their implementation of the Directive.

13 August 2005: Since this date, Member States have had to ensure that collection systems are set up and that producers of electrical and electronic equipment provide for the financing of its collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal. Collection means that consumers are able to hand in their old electrical and electronic equipment on a 1:1 basis when they purchase a new product. In addition, there must be other collection points where anybody in possession of WEEE and distributors can hand it in free of charge.

All products put on the market after 13 August 2005 have to be marked with a picture of a crossed-out rubbish bin, intended to inform consumers that they should not simply throw away these products.

The financing systems have to ensure the funding of the collection, treatment, recovery and disposal of WEEE. For products placed on the market after 13 August 2005, they have to provide a financial guarantee (e.g. an insurance policy, money in a blocked account, or participation in a collective scheme) to cover these costs.

For more details: http://www.wastemarket.eu

This is intended to ensure that “orphan products”, ie old electrical and electronic products whose producers no longer exist, are properly dealt with.

To deal with “historical WEEE”, that is products put on the market before 13 August 2005, producers have to join a collective system. Collective financing can take the form of a flat-rate levy or a fee on new equipment.

31 December 2006: By this date, Member States are to ensure that at least 4 kg of WEEE is collected per person each year. Producers have to meet various recovery and recycling/reuse targets, calculated on the basis of the average weight of the appliances in question, for the different categories of WEEE collected. Priority is to be given to repairing the equipment so it can be reused. Where this is not possible, the WEEE Directive sets targets for the reuse of components and for the recycling and recovery of the materials WEEE contains.

For example, the minimum recovery rate for large domestic appliances, such as refrigerators and microwaves, is 80%, and the rate for reuse/recycling of their components, materials and substances is 75%. The recovery rate for small domestic appliances, lighting equipment, electrical and electronic tools, toys, leisure and sports equipment and monitoring and control instruments is 70%, and the reuse/recycling rate for their components, materials and substances is 50%.

New Member States: Nine of the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 have been granted a two-year deadline extension for the collection target of 4 kg/inhabitant per year, as well as for the recovery and reuse/recycling targets. Slovenia has one-year extension.

For more details: http://www.wastemarket.eu

4) What are the key provisions and deadlines under the RoHS
Directive?

1 July 2006: From this date, producers are no longer allowed to put on the market new electrical and electronic equipment that contains lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium (all heavy metals), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) (both groups of brominated flame retardants).

The Annex to the Directive lists applications of the hazardous substances that are exempted from the substance ban on the grounds that alternatives are not available. The Directive also allows for the list of exemptions to be revised to reflect developments in scientific and technical knowledge. This can be done if it is technically or scientifically impracticable to eliminate certain hazardous substances or if the negative environmental, health and consumer safety impacts of substituting them outweigh the benefits.

5) What are the roles of the different actors – Member States, consumers,
producers, European Commission?

Member States: The role of Member States is to transpose the provisions of the WEEE and RoHS Directives into national legislation (see point 7) and implement them correctly. In particular, Member States must ensure the availability of a network of collection points and of funding for the collection, treatment and recovery of WEEE. They must also ensure that retailers offer 1:1 take-back to consumers.

Producers: When designing products producers must give consideration to facilitating their recycling and reuse. They must also finance, collectively or individually, the collection, treatment and recovery of their products when they become waste at the end of their useful life.

Consumers: Consumers should no longer simply throw away old electrical and electronic equipment. By bringing WEEE to collection points or having it collected from their homes, citizens will contribute to reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery. Since 13 August 2005 they should be able to return WEEE on a 1:1 basis to shops when purchasing a new product, or to other collection points, both free of charge. Since the same date, new electrical and electronic
products must carry a picture of a crossed-out rubbish bin to inform consumers that they should not be disposed of as unsorted waste. (See point 3)

Commission: The Commission is responsible for monitoring the application of Community law and may take action against a Member State which fails to fulfil its obligations. Apart from carrying out its monitoring role, the Commission is also actively supporting the implementation of the two Directives. It is providing guidance to the Member States on interpretation issues, such as the scope of the Directives and the implementation of the substance ban. For this purpose, a guidance document in the form of “Frequently
Asked Questions” has been produced. It is published on the DG Environment
website at

http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/waste/weee_index.htm

In addition, in 2003 the Commission adopted an amendment to the WEEE Directive clarifying financing obligations for WEEE from users other than private households.[3] In 2004, it adopted a Decision on the reporting questionnaire that Member States must use to inform the Commission of progress in implementing the WEEE Directive.[4] In 2005 it adopted a Decision on data formats.

6) How much will implementation of the two Directives cost and will it
harm the industry’s competitiveness? Will prices of electric and electronic
equipment rise as a result?

The provisions of the two Directives apply without discrimination to EU and non-EU producers. Similarly, the costs of substitutes for hazardous substances dealt with by the RoHS Directive will be borne by EU and non-EU producers alike. Competition is thus not harmed.

When the Commission presented its proposal in 2000 the overall cost for compliance with the WEEE Directive was estimated at €500-900 million per year EU-wide. Of this, €300-600 million would be spent on collection and €200-300 million on recovery, reuse and recycling.

The resulting price increase was estimated to be 1% for most electrical and electronic equipment and 2-3% for refrigerators, TV sets and monitors. The costs and price increases seem justified given the benefits that the two Directives will bring. Updated information on costs and benefits will be generated by studies and other activities launched recently by the Commission services. In any case prices for the same piece of equipment show wide seasonal and geographical variations for purely commercial reasons. It is therefore very hard to estimate the price increase due to the Directives, buti it is certainly too insignificant to make the product unaffordable to consumers.

While the primary objective of the directives is to protect human health and the environment, they will also save resources and their associated costs and environmental impacts. Recycling of WEEE in line with the targets in the directive is estimated to result in energy savings of roughly 2.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year. The two directives will produce further savings through avoided costs for waste disposal.

7) What is the status of transposition of the two Directives in the
Member States?

The WEEE and RoHS Directives entered into force on 13 February 2003, and the
deadline for Member States to transpose them into national legislation was 13
August 2004.

All Member States except Malta and the UK have communicated to the Commission
the measures they have taken to transpose the WEEE Directive.

.All Member States have transposed the RoHS Directive.

The Commission is currently assessing whether the notified measures correctly transpose the obligations of the directives. It is at the discretion of the Commission to initiate infringement procedures against those Member States that have not yet transposed the directives, as well as those that have incorrectly transposed the directives.
Further Information on WEEE and RoHS can be found at:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/waste/weee_index.htm

http://www.wastemarket.eu

For details on systems put in place in Member States, please consult for instance the list of affiliated systems at:

The WEEE forum, the association of collective WEEE take back schemes in
Europe at http://www.weee-forum.org/members_list.htm

The European Recycling Platform (ERP) at

http://www.erp-recycling.org/.


[1] Directive 2002/96/EC of
the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on waste electrical and electronic equipment [Official Journal L 37 of 13.2.2003], as amended by Directive 2003/108/EC [Official Journal L 345 of 31.12.2003].

[2] Directive 2002/95/EC of the European
Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment [Official Journal L 37 of 13.2.2003].

[3] This amendment, Directive 2003/108/EC
[Official Journal L 345 of 31.12.2003] relates to the financing of WEEE from users other than private households. For WEEE put on the market after 2005, producers have to cover the costs arising from its management. For historical waste, producers will finance the costs if they have replaced the product with an equivalent product or one that is fulfilling the same function. But the arrangements also include the option of user financial responsibility. For other historical waste, the financing is covered by the users.
[4] Decision
2004/249/EC

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